Category: Alumni

Pasi Lautala: Railroads—Back to the Future

The US rail network comprises nearly 140,000 miles of track—and more than 200,000 highway-rail grade crossings. Photo credit: Eric Peterson.

Pasi Lautala shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, 9/26 at 6 pm. Learn something new in just 30 minutes or so, with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Dr. Pasi Lautala

What are you doing for supper this Monday night 9/26 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and Pasi Lautala, associate professor of Civil, Environmental, and Geospatial Engineering at Michigan Tech.

Lautala directs Michigan Tech’s innovative Rail Transportation Program (RTP), preparing students to thrive and succeed in the rail industry—something he has done for the past 15 years.

Joining in will be Michigan Tech alumnus Eric Peterson, retired assistant chief engineer of public projects at CSX Transportation, who helped establish and grow the RTP at Michigan Tech.

During Husky Bites the two will share the secrets behind the energy efficiency of rail, and guide us from past railroads to what they are today. They’ll also discuss how railroads are securing a future in the era of rapid technology development. 

“Rail is considered more energy efficient. In many ways it is a more sustainable transportation mode compared to highway and air transport, says Lautala. “However, in order for rail transportation to keep up with the other modes of transportation, it must keep developing alongside them—and with an equal amount of passion. In the US, some of those challenges (but also opportunities) include long asset lives, non-flexible structures, and private ownership.”

Pat and Eric Peterson

Before moving to the US from Finland, Lautala worked for several summers with the Finnish Railway system. After graduating from Michigan Tech with his MS in Civil Engineering, he worked for five years as a railroad and highway engineering consultant in Chicago, before returning to Michigan Tech for his PhD in Rail Transportation and Engineering Education.

Michigan Tech’s Railroad Engineering Activity Club, aka REAC, is “for students interested in establishing contacts with, learning about, getting involved with, and a hair’s breadth away from being obsessed with the railroad and transportation industries in the United States of America and beyond.” Lautala and Peterson are honorary members.

“I first met Eric as a young consultant,” Lautala recalls. “He was one of the managers for our client, CSX Transportation. Once I returned to campus as a doctoral student, I learned Eric was a former classmate of my PhD advisor. Eric became an influential force and tireless supporter of our efforts to start the Rail Transportation Program. He still teaches some signals and communications lectures for us.”

“My wife, Pat, and I supported the startup of the Michigan Tech Rail Transportation Program with Pasi as the leader,” adds Peterson. “At the time, we were hiring engineers at CSX for all types of jobs, including field supervisors—people comfortable working both in the field and in the office. The rest of the rail industry was hiring, too.” 

“The railroad industry is still hungry for young people with interest and education in rail transportation,” says Lautala. When he first came to Michigan Tech from Finland in 1996 to earn an MS in Civil Engineering, Lautala brought the railroad bug with him. The son of a locomotive engineer, Lautala grew up in a culture that embraced rail transportation as a sustainable public transit alternative, as well as an efficient way to move freight.

While the US has the most extensive and efficient freight rail system in the world, the development of railroads had been on the back burner for decades, while the rest of the world kept moving forward, he observes. 

In 2007 Lautala established the RTP at Michigan Tech in order to advance rail education to a wide range of students, with integrated coursework, for both undergraduate and graduate students, and a minor in rail transportation. CN, Canadian National Railway Company, quickly came on board as a major sponsor of the program. The RTP also collaborates closely with many industry companies, associations and alumni. Their involvement provides professional networking, education, field trips, conferences, and guest speakers for Michigan Tech students involved in the Railroad Engineering and Activities Club (REAC), the first student chapter ever established by the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance of Way Association (AREMA).

“Students can also take part in hands-on rail industry-sponsored research projects across disciplines. Some topic areas include grade crossing and trespasser safety, materials research on railway equipment, locomotive emissions, the impact of climate change on railroads, and more,” says Lautala. Learning by doing is a central component of RTP’s approach to rail education.

Rail companies actively work with RTP to fill openings with Michigan Tech RTP students, whether for for full time jobs, internships or co-ops. And the RTP Experience wouldn’t be complete without the Railroad Night, an over 15 year tradition at Michigan Tech.

“Rail just makes sense, and it’s something this country needs.”

Pasi Lautala
Michigan Tech RTP students conduct field work

Lautala initially founded RTP’s innovative Summer in Finland program, which integrated an international component to rail education. It was an intensive five-week program, a collaboration among Michigan Tech, the Tampere University of Technology, and the North American and Finnish railroad industry. “That program created sufficient interest from the students and industry to officially launch the Rail Transportation Program,” Lautala says.

Outside Michigan Tech, Lautala serves as chair of National Academies’ Research Transportation Board Rail Group. “There are so many research possibilities—everything from infrastructure, with automated track-monitoring systems and recycled materials in railroad ties, to energy efficient equipment and operations,” he says.

Team Lautala!

Lautala’s own engineering research currently involves connected and autonomous vehicle communications at grade crossings, with fellow Civil, Environmental, and Geospatial Associate Professor Kuilin Zhang. The two are working to develop safe and efficient driving and routing strategies for autonomous vehicles at railroad grade crossings. Reduced energy consumption, emissions, and potential time delays are some of their goals. Their research is supported with two separate grants from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).

Dr. Lautala, how did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

Prof. Lautala likes to fish, hunt, and play the accordian.

Probably my early summer internships, first at a rail construction site, and then with Finnish Railways.

Hometown?

Kangasala, Finland. I have split my life evenly between Finland and the US, twenty-five years each. I recently spent a year in Finland with my wife and two rascals (children): Olavi (10) and Ansel (8).

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Hobbies, you name it…..soccer (including coaching), hockey, golf, and many other sports. Three accordions and an equal number of bands. I’ve done some acting, too (though that’s been pretty quiet recently).

A rail adventure!

Eric, how did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

I saw the Mackinac Bridge while it was under construction. A few years later when our subdivision was expanded, I spent the summer watching the grading contractor.  

Boating is another hobby. We have a 17’ boat for water skiing and a 20’ sailboat we use each summer for a few weeks on Crystal Lake near Frankfort, Michigan, when our family vacations together.

One of your most memorable accomplishments?

Training as a locomotive engineer.

Hometown?

I was born in Detroit and moved to Bloomfield Township when I was in the 4th grade. I am an only child. I married Patricia Paoli in 1970.

Eric and Pat thus far have three married adult children, and nine grandchildren.

What do you like to do in your spare time

My dad exposed me to both model railroading and real railroads. My primary hobby is model railroading in O Scale 2 rail, which is 1/48 scale. My work was all in the railroad industry.

Read more:

See Tracks? Think Train!

The Michigan Department of Transportation and Michigan Operation Lifesaver are partnering together to raise rail safety awareness. Most Americans today know the dangers associated with drunk driving, distracted driving or texting while crossing the street, But many are unaware of the risks they are taking around railroad tracks.

Husky Bites: Join Us for Supper This Fall!

Husky dog with plaid shirt and glasses sitting at a table with a bowl of dog bones
What are you doing for supper each Monday night at 6 pm ET this fall? Join us for some brain food, via Zoom or Facebook Live. Get the full scoop at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Craving some brain food? Join Dean Janet Callahan and special guests each Monday at 6 p.m. ET this for a 20-minute (or so) interactive Zoom webinar, with plenty of time after for Q&A. Grab some supper, or just flop down on your couch. This family friendly event is BYOC (Bring Your Own Curiosity). All are welcome. Get the full scoop and register⁠—it’s free⁠—at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Guests include Michigan Tech faculty members, who share a mini lecture and weave in a bit of their own personal journey to their chosen field. Also invited to join in during the session—their colleagues, mentors, former students, or current students.

“We created Husky Bites for anyone who likes to learn, across the universe,” says Callahan. “We aim to make it very interactive, with a ‘quiz’ (in Zoom that’s a multiple choice poll), about every five minutes. Everyone is welcome, and bound to learn something new. Some entire families enjoy it,” she adds.

Those who join Husky Bites via Zoom can take part in the session Q&A, one of the best parts of Husky Bites. But there are a few ways to “consume” the webinar. Catch the livestream on the College of Engineering Facebook page. Or, if you happen to miss a session, watch any past session on Zoom or youtube. (Scroll down to find the links on mtu.edu/huskybites).

On Monday (September 26), we’ll launch the season with “Railroads—Back to the Future, with Dr. Pasi Lautala, alumnus, director of Michigan Tech’s Rail Transportation Program, and associate professor of Civil, Environmental and Geospatial Engineering. Prof. Lautala will be joined by Eric Peterson ’70, ’71, retired former assistant chief engineer of public projects at CSX—and one of Michigan Tech’s greatest supporters and advocates of railroad activities and education.

About Husky Bites

Dean Callahan first launched Husky Bites June 2020, after the the first few months of the pandemic. Since then, she has hosted attendees from Michigan Tech’s campus community, across the US, and even attendees from various countries around the world. “There’s something of interest for all ages,” she adds. “A lot of folks turn it on in the background, and listen or watch while preparing, eating or cleaning up after supper,” she says. Dean Callahan awards some really great prizes for attendance. Also, high school students qualify for a nifty swag bag.

Get the Full Scoop

Want to see full schedule details? Just go to mtu.edu/huskybites. You can register from there, too. Husky Bites is presented by the College of Engineering at Michigan Technological University.

Pamela Rogers Klyn to Deliver First Year Engineering Series Lecture at Michigan Tech

Pam Klyn ’93 is Senior Vice President, Corporate Relations and Sustainability at Whirlpool Corporation

Pamela Rogers Klyn, Senior Vice President, Corporate Relations and Sustainability at Whirlpool Corporation, will deliver the First-Year Engineering Series Lecture to more than 1,000 Michigan Tech’s incoming engineering majors on Monday, September 26 at 6 pm on campus at the Rozsa Center Auditorium.

The title of Klyn’s lecture: “Effort Creates Opportunities.”

“The First-Year Engineering Series Lecture provides an exciting opportunity for our students to learn how they can use their new technological education to positively impact the world, by hearing from some of the nation’s most innovative engineering leaders,” says Mary Raber, chair of the Department of Engineering Fundamentals. “We look forward to learning more about Pam’s engineering journey as our students begin creating their own.”

“Pam’s dedication to continuous learning and developing others as a part of her own career journey are important keys to her own success and the success of many others. Her words of wisdom will be especially helpful to our new students,” adds Janet Callahan, Dean of the College of Engineering.

Klyn grew up in Auburn, Michigan and joined Whirlpool soon after graduating in 1993 with a bachelor of science degree in Mechanical Engineering from Michigan Tech.

“I chose engineering because it provided a strong foundation of problem-solving skills for whatever it was I would choose to explore in the future,” Klyn says. “I originally thought I would pursue medical school. Instead I decided to enter the professional world.”

“The engineering education I received at MTU was a strong stepping stone to my career success at Whirlpool Corporation.”

Pam Klyn ’93, Senior Vice President, Corporate Relations and Sustainability at Whirlpool Corporation

Klyn has held advancing roles in engineering, product development, global innovation, and marketing at Whirlpool. Its vision: “Be the best kitchen and laundry company, in constant pursuit of improving life at home.” World-class Manufacturing, IoT (Internet of Things), environmental and social responsibility, leading-edge design, craftsmanship, and digital technologies all drive innovation at Whirlpool.

Whirlpool reported approximately $19 billion in annual sales in 2020, with 78,000 employees and 57 manufacturing and technology research centers. Its iconic brand portfolio includes Whirlpool, KitchenAid, Maytag, Consul, Brastemp, Amana, Bauknecht, JennAir, Indesit and Yummly. The company had 472 patents awarded in 2020 alone. (Klyn was named on one that same year).

The Whirlpool Corp. site in Cassinetta, northern Italy, reached its zero waste to landfill goal a year ahead of schedule, and reduced its carbon emissions by 38 percent in just four years. Whirlpool is aiming for carbon neutrality at all of its 54 sites around the world by 2030. Photo credit: Whirlpool Corporation.

After her first year at Whirlpool, Klyn earned a master’s degree in engineering at the University of Michigan. Later she earned an executive MBA from Bowling Green State University.

Klyn is now a member of the Executive Leadership team at Whirlpool, and reports directly to the company’s chairman and chief executive officer, Marc Bitzer. 

“Pam has been an outstanding leader at Whirlpool. She brings not only a strong technical understanding of the products and the types of purposeful innovation that exceed our customer’s expectations, but also a commitment to bettering the communities around her,” Bitzer said.

Klyn describes herself as hardworking and focused—while being grateful for the support she was given throughout her youth and early in her career. “This has fueled my strong desire to give back and leave things better than I found them in everything I do,” she says.

Klyn has excelled in a number of business and engineering leadership roles at the company. She lived in Milan, Italy as vice president, products and brands for Whirlpool EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa), then led all washer, dryer and commercial laundry platforms globally as senior vice president of global product organization. Klyn was accountable for developing the product plans and long-term strategy to drive profitable growth in all regions.

In 2011, the Wall Street Journal profiled Klyn in an article, “Finding Their Way to the Fast Track, Rising Stars to Senior Managers,” about the initiatives that saved her company $854 million. “Be confident in your approach,” states Klyn in the WSJ article. “Look your senior leaders in the eye and say, ‘Here’s my plan, and here’s why it will work.’”

As the first female technology director for Whirlpool, Klyn has made it a point to serve as mentor to a number of individuals, seeking to provide tools and guidance for emerging female leaders. “I want to support their career growth and to give them the confidence to pursue roles at the highest levels of the organization,” she says.

She was elected to the Michigan Tech Presidential Council of Alumnae in 2012. Last year she was welcomed into the Michigan Tech Academy of the Department Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics Academy. Selection into the Academy recognizes excellence and leadership in engineering and civic affairs. 

Klyn also serves on the College of Engineering Advisory Board as part of her ongoing connection to Michigan Tech. 

Closer to home in Benton Harbor, Michigan, Klyn is a member of the Boys and Girls Clubs Board of Directors. She has served as the co-lead of the Whirlpool United Way Campaign for multiple years in support of her community. She’s also a trustee on the Whirlpool Foundation Board. Klyn is also a member of the Board of Directors for Patrick Industries, a $5 billion-plus publicly traded company. 

In her spare time, Klyn is an avid runner (24 marathons and counting) and a devoted landscaper. She lives with her husband, Steve, near Lake Michigan. She has two step-children, Parker and Cara.

Read more:

Providing the best leadership: Pam Klyn takes on new communications role at Whirlpool

John Lenters: Eyes On the Water—Great Lakes Research from Buoys and Lighthouses

First deployment of a “Spotter” wave buoy near Stannard Rock lighthouse on Lake Superior, with fishing boat shown in the background. Photo credit: John Lenters

John Lenters, associate research scientist at Michigan Tech’s Great Lakes Research Center will share his knowledge on Husky Bites Live during Alumni Reunion 2022. The session takes place Friday, August 5 at 4 pm ET at the Great Lakes Research Center, Conference Room 201/202. Everyone in attendance will learn something new, with plenty of time after for Q&A. 

Can’t make it in person? Join us remotely. Use this link to join the Zoom webinar on August 5 starting at 3:45 pm.

Dr. John Lenters retrieves a wave buoy near Grand Marais, Michigan.

Environmental research on the Great Lakes—the largest lake system on the planet—is challenging. Even basic information such as weather conditions are largely invisible to mariners due to massive data gaps across vast expanses of water. 

Dr. John Lenters will explain how Michigan Tech’s Great Lakes Research Center and collaborators use scientific instruments on buoys and lighthouses to better understand the physical processes of the Great Lakes, such as wind, waves, circulation, evaporation, and ice cover.

Dr. Lenters, when did you first get into atmospheric science? What sparked your interest?

I was always interested in weather and science as a kid, and I grew up downstate near Lake Michigan. So after I got my PhD in Atmospheric Science at Cornell, I returned to the Great Lakes region and began a postdoc position at UW-Madison to study the impacts of weather and climate on lakes.

Satellite image of stamp sands near Gay, Michigan and the track of a Spotter buoy drifting to shore on November 16, 2021.

I deployed my first “weather buoy” on Sparkling Lake (in northern Wisconsin) in 1999. I’ve been conducting similar studies on a variety of lakes ever since. This includes saline lakes in western Nebraska, Arctic lakes in northern Alaska, and the Great Lakes region.

Family and Hometown?

I grew up in Holland, Michigan and still have family down there (both parents). I have two sisters, one in Massachusetts and one in Wyoming. My fiancé, Amanda, is a wildlife biologist and forester with the Wisconsin DNR. We’ll be getting married in Copper Harbor on New Years Eve.

“Captain Dingo” (aka John and Amanda’s dog, Copper) pilots their pontoon boat on Lake Tomahawk, Wisconsin.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

My hobbies include cross-country skiing, kayaking, birding, storm chasing, and playing the drums. Amanda and I have a dog named Copper who we think is mostly an Australian shepherd, but we call her the dingo, because she looks exactly like one!

In my spare time I like to travel, play music, take our pontoon boat out on the lake, and get some exercise (I run, swim, ski, kayak, and go on plenty of dog walks). I’ve done some triathlons in the past. My last one was the Copperman, many years ago.

Hungry for some brain food? Join us for a bite during Husky Bites!

More about Husky Bites

Launched by Dean Janet Callahan in 2020 near the start of the pandemic, Husky Bites is an interactive Zoom webinar that takes place each fall and spring.

“Feel free to invite a friend,” says Dean Janet Callahan about her Zoom webinar series, Husky Bites. “Everyone is welcome!”

During the semester, every Monday at 6 pm ET, each “bite” is a suppertime mini-lecture, presented by a different Michigan Tech faculty member who weaves in a bit of their own personal journey, and brings a co-host, as well—an alum or a current student who knows a thing or two about the topic at hand.

The Fall 2022 Husky Bites weekly Zoom webinar series resumes starting Monday, Sept. 12. “We’ve had attendees from nine countries, and a great mix of students, alumni, our Michigan Tech community and friends,” says Dean Callahan, who mails out prizes for (near) perfect attendance.

Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Dr. Larry Sutter Retires from Michigan Tech with a New Focus: Carbon Neutral Concrete by 2035

Lawrence L. Sutter P.E., Assistant Dean of Research and External Relations, College of Engineering, Michigan Tech
Now that he has retired, Dr. Larry Sutter plans to do a lot more consulting, with a strong focus on the development of sustainable concrete.

After 43 years of distinguished service to Michigan Tech as a staff member, former student, professor, and leader, Dr. Larry Sutter, associate dean of research and external relations in the College of Engineering, and professor of materials science and engineering, officially retired from the University as of June 30.

Sutter first came to Michigan Tech in 1979 to work in the former Department of Metallurgical Engineering, operating and maintaining their powerful electron microscopes. He had previously earned an associates degree in electronics at DeVry University in Ohio and had worked for an instrument vendor for three years. Taking advantage of Michigan Tech’s tuition benefit, while working full time, Sutter took a few undergraduate courses, and then a few more–eventually earning a BS in Metallurgical Engineering. He didn’t stop there. Sutter went on to earn an MS in Environmental Engineering, and finally a PhD in Civil Engineering—all at Michigan Tech.

While pursuing his doctoral degree, Sutter joined the faculty in Michigan Tech’s former School of Technology, teaching courses in civil engineering technology and construction management for nearly a decade, becoming a tenured professor. 

In 2007 Sutter became director of the Michigan Tech Transportation Institute (MTTI), which served as a link between Michigan Tech researchers and the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and other state DOTS, as well as the Federal Highways Association. Under Sutter’s direction MTTI expanded, growing to 25 employees, focused on transportation research, education and training, outreach, product development and technology transfer, with over $3 million in research expenditures.

He also served as director of the US Department of Transportation-sponsored UTC-MiSTI (University Transportation Center for Materials in Sustainable Transportation Infrastructure). Sutter became actively involved with research through the National Cooperative Highway Research Program, sharing his extensive knowledge of concrete making materials. He also contributed through his strong expertise in material characterization measures, which enabled him to accurately assess concrete durability and the deterioration of concrete pavements.

Sutter joined Michigan Tech’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering in 2013 as a full professor. He advised graduate students and taught courses in scanning electron microscopy, and continued research on  concrete-making materials and concrete durability.

Over the years Sutter’s research focus honed in on various recycled and secondary materials for sustainable concrete, including fly ash and blast furnace slag. He is recognized nationally as a leader in development of standard tests and specifications for using these materials in concrete. 

“My professional goal now is to be a contributor to making the cement and concrete industry carbon neutral by 2035. It is a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) but I feel strongly it can be done.”

Dr. Larry Sutter

In recent years Sutter earned several major awards. He was named a Fellow of ASTM International, formerly known as American Society for Testing and Materials. ASTM is an international standards organization that develops and publishes voluntary consensus technical standards for a wide range of materials, products, systems, and services.

In naming him a Fellow, ASTM recognized Sutter as “a valuable resource and advocate for the responsible use of sustainable materials in concrete mixtures, and a forward-thinking leader in integrating new and developing technologies into new and existing standards.”

Sutter’s dedication is underscored with a summary of his involvement: he is active on ASTM Committee C01 Cement, as well as C09 Concrete. He serves as vice-chair of committee C09, the second largest committee within ASTM, and serves as chair of subcommittee C09.24 Supplementary Cementitious Materials. Sutter is also chair of subcommittee C01.14 Non-hydraulic Cements, and serves on the executive committees of both C01 and C09.

“There are numerous professional activities I am involved in, to get the cement and concrete industry to carbon neutral,” says Sutter.

Sutter was also named Fellow of the American Concrete Institute, or ACI, in 2019. He currently serves as chair of ACI Committee 321 Durability Code, Vice-Chair of Committee 232 on Fly Ash and Bottom Ash Use in Concrete, and secretary of Committee 201 on Durability. He serves on the ACI Board of Direction. And now, he serves as chair of the board of the newly formed ACI Center of Excellence for Carbon Neutral Concrete (NEU).

Sutter earned the Jean-Claude Roumain Innovation in Concrete Award from ACI’s Strategic Development Council, which recognized his strong leadership in concrete materials education and research. The award committee cited Sutter’s work, which has “resulted in the advancement of knowledge of deicer-induced damage to concrete, utilization of fly ash and alternative cements, and characterization of a concrete air-void system to overall improve the sustainability and durability of concrete.” Sutter also received the Delmar L. Bloem Distinguished Service Award from ACI in 2018. 

In 2022 Sutter received the Champion Award from the American Coal Ash Association, the 8th recipient of the award over the past 10 years.

Larry with his wife Patty and daughter Lena.

Sutter made his mark outside the world of concrete and Michigan Tech, too. After enjoying hockey as a spectator all of his life, at the age of 37, he got the opportunity to get on the ice and enjoy the game as a participant. This happened because he casually commented to his graduate school office mate, John Sandell, now a faculty member in the Department of Chemical Engineering, that he would love to play hockey—but only if he could play goalie. 

“John assured me that if I wanted to play goalie I could play 7 days a week—because no one else wanted to do it!”

Sutter has played hockey ever since, and even founded the Tuesday Night Hockey League, which involves the game (of course) but also a veritable locker room feast that Sutter prepares himself each week for his teammates.

Sutter’s love of hockey is contagious off campus, too. For each of his many ACI meetings, held in different cities across the country, where possible, Sutter manages to organize an ACI hockey game, which involves finding a rink nearby, recruiting 20 of his ACI colleagues, and playing, too. The game is followed by a reception and the event is always done as a fundraiser for the ACI Richard Stehly Scholarship with each game raising well over a thousand dollars to support the scholarship fund.

Tuesday Night Hockey League at Michigan Tech: first the game, then Larry’s homemade feast! (Larry is first on the lower left).

Sutter is a member of the National Academies Transportation Research Board, and the National Concrete Consortium. Both are leading venues for the dissemination of concrete research. He’s also a volunteer at Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly, something he has done for the past 42 years. 

So what are Sutter’s next steps after retirement?  “My plan is to do a lot more consulting now, with a strong focus on the development of sustainable concrete,” he says. “It’s time to give back.”

Making concrete stepping stones with fourth grade students (as a Mother’s Day gift) became an annual outreach event for Larry. “That was always a highlight of the year.”

Dr. Sutter generously answered our questions about himself and his plans for retirement.

Hometown?

I was raised in a small town Western New York called Perrysburg, about 50 miles south of Buffalo. I am #4 of six children, 3 brothers and two sisters

Why did you choose Michigan Tech?

Actually, Michigan Tech chose me. I came here in 1978 to install an x-ray fluorescence spectrometer in the Metallurgical Engineering department and while I was here I learned of a job opening in the electron microscope lab. I was looking for an opportunity to work at a university and continue my education, and I loved the small town environment of Houghton, so I applied for the job. I came to the interview in December of 1978, the record snow year. Professor Al Hendrickson picked me up at the airport with his VW bug and as we drove to town in that little car, with no heat, with snow banks 6 feet high on either side, I knew this was the place for me. Eventually I was hired, moved here in March of 1979, and so it began.

Part of the job you enjoyed most?

There were many highlights. Operating the electron microscopes, especially the electron microprobe, was a “gadgeteers” dream. That was and always will be the most fun and interesting job. But that wasn’t as professor or dean, that was as a research engineer.

Probably the highlight of my professor time was as director of the UTC. I worked with a very competent and resourceful staff person, Beth Hoy, and we did some very innovative things. We were able to fund a large number of students and we had numerous outreach programs to engage K12 students. Somewhere along that timeline we started making concrete stepping stones for a Mother’s Day present with 4th grade students. That was always a highlight of the year. The students would come, learn about microscopes, materials, and then get dirty making concrete.

Most rewarding aspect of your job?

Teaching in the School of Technology was rewarding as it was a two-year associates degree and I saw a lot of students that reminded me of myself at their age. The associates degree is a path into higher education that allows students to take an incremental step and prove to themselves that they can be successful. I saw so many students come in year one with the attitude that 6 months from now they will be a failure, only to find they like learning, and they can be successful in college, and by the end of year 2 they are looking at BS programs, or going to work with an associates degree and a much different career trajectory than would have been the case without the degree. I saw a lot of young people’s lives change for the better.

“If there is spare time, my first choice is to travel. I have a life goal of seeing every NHL team on their home ice at least once.” (Hopefully that includes at least a few destinations with beautiful beaches!)

Who were some of the people that influenced or helped you along the way?

In my time in the Metallurgical Engineering department as research engineer, the two influences were Professor Don Mikkola and Professor Duane Thayer. Don was the main reason I came to MTU. At one point I turned down the job offer and he called and talked me into coming; Don had a very convincing manner. Over the years he was always a supporter and a mentor, and a close personal friend. Duane Thayer was a major influence on my education and on my ultimate career path, and also a close personal friend. I became interested in the local copper history when I first came to Michigan Tech, and Duane, aka ‘Dewey’, filled in a lot of stories. I became interested in mineral processing/extractive metallurgy and that became my academic pursuit, under his tutelage. And for everyone reading this who was one of ‘Dewey’s Boys’ (and there were girls too), we all know we are in a special fraternity. Knowledge from that training is still serving me today as I work in the cement and concrete industry.

Plus, Dewey told me early on the secret of being a Yooper:  “Be the same way every day. Whatever you are, just be that way and don’t be changing on us.” 

Another major influence of mine came from another Dewey, Civil Engineering Professor George Dewey. He got me engaged in fly ash and concrete. Had he not supported me in my transition from research engineer to graduate student to faculty member, it never would have happened. He introduced me to ACI (the American Concrete Institute) and taught me much about how the construction industry works. His support early in my career was foundational. And more than anyone, he taught me how to write.

Last but not least, I worked with two professional staff, that without their skills, much of the research I led would not have had anywhere near the same level of impact. Those were Dr. Karl Peterson, who is now a professor at the University of Toronto, and Jerry Anzalone, now a successful entrepreneur and beachcomber in central California. Both were graduate students under my supervision at the time, but I received far more from them than I gave. Their laboratory skills and their work with students on the front lines made our research program successful.

Your biggest goal now?

My professional goal now is to be a contributor to making the cement and concrete industry carbon neutral by 2035. It is a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) but I feel strongly it can be done.

What will you do in your spare time? 

I don’t see a lot of spare time coming up in the near term. There are numerous professional activities I am involved in, to get the cement and concrete industry to carbon neutral. Plus I have leadership roles in ASTM and also in ACI, most notably as Chair of the Board for the new ACI Center of Excellence for Carbon Neutral Concrete (NEU). But if there is spare time, my first choice is to travel. I also have a life goal of seeing every NHL team on their home ice at least once. So far I have 16 of the 32 teams done. I’ve been to multiple arenas for some teams, like Detroit. I try to see a couple of teams each year. 

Larry as goalie.

What advice do you give to new students? New faculty?

My advice for new students: Put your phones away, listen to your professors, and read the book. And most importantly, ask questions. It will make them a better professor and it will help you understand that not every question has an answer, and for a young engineer that’s job security.

“With intelligent questions, not nonsense, drive your professor to the point where they say ‘I don’t know.'”

Larry Sutter

My advice for new faculty: Nothing is easy but everything is possible. Don’t take “No” for an answer and never forget the importance of the professional staff at the university. They are the cog that makes the machine work. Respect them and make them part of your team.

The College of Engineering and Michigan Tech are thankful for Dr Sutter’s leadership and friendship and wish him every happiness in his retirement!

Dr. William Predebon Retires Today After 47 Years at Michigan Tech

Dr. Bill Predebon is retiring today after a stellar career as professor and chair. He will remain always a mentor, advisor, colleague, and friend.

Today at Michigan Technological University, it feels like the end of an era.

But for Dr. William W. Predebon, J.S. Endowed Department Chair and Professor, it is the beginning of something absolutely new. Dr. Predebon will retire today after 25 years as the chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics, and nearly 47 years at Michigan Tech.

“As I look back on all those years as department chair, I want to acknowledge that the progress we made was on the shoulders of those that came before us and the great faculty, staff, students and alumni who have been a part of this journey with me,” he says.

“If there was a hall-of-fame for mechanical engineering department chairs, Bill would get in on the first ballot,” says Greg Odegard, the John O. Hallquist Endowed Chair in Computational Mechanics. “Bill is a tremendous mentor. He worked hard to help young faculty develop into world-class researchers and teachers. He has a very calm, non-dramatic approach to leadership. He is simply honest and straight-forward.”

Under Predebon’s respectful and brilliant watch, the ME-EM department made great strides in conducting interdisciplinary research, growing the doctoral program, expanding research funding, and updating the curriculum and laboratories. He also brought diversity to both the faculty and student body.

Predebon joined the Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics at Michigan Tech in 1976. He served as the department’s director of graduate studies, and then, in 1997 he became chair of the department.

“The world is changing, and we need to respond to its challenges and opportunities.”

Dr. Bill Predebon

“I’ve been fortunate to work with Bill on many projects over the past 25 years,” says Gordon Parker, the John and Cathi Drake Endowed Chair in Mechanical Engineering. “Bill brought a level of positivity that exceeded the circumstances in every case. This, along with his unwavering focus and kindness, resulted in success.”

“Bill has had a profound and lasting impact on the careers of many students, faculty, and staff,” adds Parker. “He’s a ‘true believer’ in Michigan Tech and the people that define it.”

“Bill made great effort on the development and retention of minority and women faculty members,” says ME-EM Professor Bo Chen. “When I joined Michigan Tech, he assigned two mentors for me, including a woman mentor. Bill has always been supportive of my teaching and research. He always tried his best to accommodate my requests for teaching assistants and research space. I greatly appreciate his help on my career journey at Michigan Tech.”

“Bill is the reason I came to Michigan Tech, and the reason I am still here today,” says Brad King, Richard and Elizabeth Henes Endowed Professor of Space Systems. “When I interviewed 22 years ago, Bill convinced me of his vision to broaden MEEM into new areas, which could include aerospace, and I jumped at the chance to be a part of that change.”

“True to his word, Bill always made room for new ideas and encouraged and rewarded innovation,” adds King. “As a result, there are now hundreds of Michigan Tech alumni in leadership positions within the commercial and government space industry, one Michigan Tech satellite orbiting the Earth, and two more in development. Just last week I saw a commuter bus driving around Houghton with a big satellite graphic on the side. Because of Bill, space and satellites are now an integral part of Michigan Tech’s identity.”

“By hiring talented faculty and staff, together with our great students, our generous and supportive alumni, and with the support of the university administration, we have been able to innovate, push boundaries, be creative, take risks, and be entrepreneurs,” Predebon says.

Over the past 10 years he led the ME-EM Department to rapidly evolve its educational methods, infusing into undergraduate and graduate curriculum the knowledge and critical skills to use big data, machine learning and artificial intelligence in the solution of engineering design problems.

“Bill is the master of the long game.”

John Drake ‘64, ‘69, Michigan Tech mechanical engineering and business alumnus
Dr. Predebon’s early days at Michigan Tech

Predebon grew up in New Jersey, then earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame in 1965 and his master’s and doctorate from Iowa State University in 1968 and 1970, respectively. After he graduated, Predebon held summer appointments at Argonne National Laboratory, Southwest Research Institute, and Honeywell Inc./Alliant Techsystems Inc.

Predebon’s research in ceramics, computational modeling and simulation of impact phenomena, and explosive fragmentation has involved experimental, analytical, and computational elements and has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense, and other government agencies and industrial partners. He has over forty publications and two US patents.

A Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), Predebon has received numerous honors, including the Outstanding Service Award for his work with the student chapter of the Society of Automotive Engineers. At Michigan Tech he earned the first annual Martin Luther King Award by Michigan Tech’s Black Student Organizations; and the Michigan Tech Distinguished Teaching Award. He received the Distinguished Faculty Award from the Michigan Association of Governing Boards of Colleges, and the Michigan Tech Honorary Alumni Award. He also gained membership in Michigan Tech’s Academy of Teaching Excellence.

In 2015 Predebon was recipient of the Michigan Tech Diversity Award, which recognizes the accomplishments of a faculty or staff member who contributes to diversity and inclusion through exemplary leadership and actions. Predebon stood out for his long-term persistence in working on issues of diversity.

“Bill has been known for his willingness to try out-of-the-box strategies for recruiting underrepresented minorities and female faculty and students,” said Carl Anderson, ME-EM professor emeritus and former associate dean of research in the College of Engineering. “He recognized the importance of a diverse workforce well before it became part of the common expectation of a department chair. He led the way.”

“My observations, from over 20 years of Dr. Bill Predebon’s leadership:

Passionate
Resourceful
Enthusiastic
Dedicated
Energetic
Balanced
Optimistic
Notable

Gerald Haycock ‘68, mechanical engineering alumnus

Predebon also led efforts to create the Michigan Tech Learning Resource Center for Self-Paced Programmed Instruction, the ME-EM Engineering Learning Center, as well as a distance learning doctorate degree in mechanical engineering, and a Design Engineer Certificate program with General Motors in 2000. More than six hundred GM employees earned the certificate.

In 2010 Predebon started a Peace Corps Master’s International program in mechanical engineering at Michigan Tech, the first and only one of its kind in the nation.

Predebon is a captain in the US Army Reserves and is a member of four honor societies: Tau Beta Pi (engineering), Phi Kappa Phi (academic excellence), Omicron Delta Kappa (leadership), and Theta Tau (engineering).

In 2019 he was inducted into the Pan American Academy of Engineering, which brings together engineers from across the continent of North America, South America and Mexico—a total of 18 countries.

At Michigan Tech he advised both the Nordic and Alpine ski teams and Delta Sigma Phi fraternity, and chaired building committees for both the Dow Environmental Sciences and Engineering Building and the Great Lakes Research Center.

“The ME-EM department and Michigan Tech are better as a result of Bill’s hard efforts. I only wish I had an opportunity to be one of his students!”

Geoff Weller ‘75, mechanical engineering alumnus

So what are Dr. Predebon’s next steps after retirement? He plans to keep working—this time in development and outreach activities for Michigan Tech, as a Professor and Chair Emeritus.

“Bill is a pioneer at Michigan Tech in advancement. He showed the university how it could be done successfully,” notes Parker.

And Dr. Predebon just might journey with his family to Italy at some point, in order to meet relatives there for the very first time.

“ I thank all of you from the bottom of my heart.

Dr. Bill Predebon

OHM and Michigan Tech Alumni team up to Lead Family Engineering Nights in Detroit Schools

Fifteen OHM staff helped present the Family Engineering Night sessions, including several Michigan Tech alumni.

From May 10-12, Michigan Technological University teamed up with OHM Advisors to provide STEM outreach at five schools in Detroit. 

The program they presented, Family Engineering, engages K-8 students and their families in engineering investigations. Family Engineering was created by Michigan Tech and partners in 2011 with a grant from the National Science Foundation. A key outcome of the program was the publication of the Family Engineering Activity & Event Planning Guide, published in 2011.

Sessions took place at the schools, followed by free pizza at Mackenzie Middle School, Clippert Multicultural Magnet Honors Academy, and Adams Middle School. The event began with short opener activities that adults and children explore together. These included: Glue is the Clue, Domino Diving Board, Who Engineered It?, Let’s Communicate, Boxing Beans, Picture This, Solid Ground, Hoop Glider, Inspired by Nature, Shifting Shapes, All The Right Tools, and Thrillseekers.

Next, families took part in three Engineering Challenges:

  1. Stop & Think – Why was this object designed? What need did it address? Can you make it better?
  1. Team Up – Discover why engineers work in teams. What helps a team work well together? How can we address challenges?
  1. Give Me Hand – How can an engineer help a person who has lost their hand, or some other part of their body?
Family Engineering Night took place recently in Detroit, with volunteer help from OHM Advisors.

Fifteen OHM staff helped present the sessions, including several Michigan Tech alumni.

Ron Cavallaro, Vice President of OHM Michigan, echoed the value of introducing kids to engineering at an early age. He earned his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering at Michigan Tech and is now a member of the Michigan Tech Department of Civil, Environmental and Geospatial Engineering’s Professional Advisory Board. “Many of the families that attended the events brought younger siblings,” said Cavallaro. It was awesome to see the middle school students, their parents and siblings helping each other on the challenges.”

“OHM Advisors has been seeking out ways to get younger children interested in STEM fields. We are fortunate to have had MTU reach out to us to help with this program.”

Ron Cavallaro, Vice President of OHM Michigan

Chandler Park Academy High School and UPrep Science & Math High School hosted another Michigan Tech alum, retired Lt. Colonel Otha Thornton, chair of Michigan Tech’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Sense of Belonging (DEIS) Alumni Advisory Board, formed in Fall 2021. 

Lt. Colonel Otha Thornton

Thornton presented at four student assemblies as part of the outreach effort. He shared how students could find their own pathway to STEM and described STEM careers. Thornton also described highlights of his own career⁠—working directly with President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Vice President Biden in the White House, along with Congress, to promote passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act. The Act supports STEM education in K-12 schools. 

Thornton’s STEM work is preceded by a 21-year career with the U.S. military. He earned the Bronze Star Medal for exceptional performance in combat operations during Operation Iraqi Freedom. His other military assignments included working with the White House Communications Agency and U.S. forces in Iraq. As the 53rd president of the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA), Thornton was the first and only African American male to serve as President in the National PTA’s 125-year history. 

Any school can access the Family Engineering Activity & Event Planning Guide to provide positive engineering experiences for K-8 students and their families. For more info, contact: Joan Chadde, jchadde@mtu.edu or 906-487-3341.

Three Michigan Tech Alumni Elected to the National Academy of Engineering

Congratulations to Dr. Sam Jenekhe, Boeing-Martin Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Washington; Dr. Sarah Rajala, former James L. and Katherine S. Melsa Dean of Engineering at Iowa State University; and Dr. Bill Hammack, William H. and Janet G. Lycan Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Illinois. All three have been elected to the National Academy of Engineering, among the highest professional distinctions accorded to an engineer. New members of the NAE will be formally inducted in October at the NAE’s annual meeting.

Dr. Sam Jenekhe

Samson A Jenekhe ’77 is honored for discovery and understanding of conjugated materials for organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) widely used in the commercial sector. A professor of chemistry and the Boeing-Martin Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Washington, Jenekhe studies the fundamental physical and chemical properties of semiconductor materials, as well as their practical applications. Research topics have included organic and flexible electronics, the use of organic light-emitting diodes for lighting and displays, energy storage and conversion systems, semiconducting polymers and polymer-based photovoltaic systems.

Dr. Sarah Rajala

Sarah A. Rajala ’74 is honored for “innovations in engineering education: outcomes assessment, greater participation and retention of women in engineering, and an enhanced global community.” Rajala is an internationally-known leader in the field of engineering education and a ground breaker for women in engineering. She serves as a role model for young women and is passionate about diversity of thought and culture, especially in a college environment.

Dr. Bill Hammack

William S. Hammack ’84 is honored for innovations in multidisciplinary engineering education, outreach, and service to the profession through development and communication of internet-delivered content. As an engineer, Hammack’s mission over the last 25 years has been to explain engineering to the public. His media work — from his work in public radio to his books to his pioneering use over the last decade of internet-delivered video— has been listened, read, or viewed over seventy million times. He also recorded more than 200 public radio segments that describe what, why and how engineers do what they do. Hammack’s videos (The Engineer Guy) have more than 1.2 million followers on YouTube.

Michigan Tech SWE Section travels to Wisconsin for ‘Spring Forward’ Professional Day

Michigan Tech SWE section members and alumnae gather for a photo at Spring Forward 2022.

Nine student members of Michigan Tech’s section of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and their advisor, Gretchen Hein (MMET), recently attended Spring Forward, a professional development day in Kohler, Wisconsin, hosted by the SWE-Wisconsin.

Laura Kohler, Senior Vice President of Human Resources, Stewardship and Sustainability at Kohler Company gave the keynote address. She spoke about her career path, the importance of diversity, and leadership. 

Michigan Tech SWE Section members toured the Kohler Design Center after attending SWE-Wisconsin Spring Forward 2022

Mechanical Engineering alumna Jackie (Burtka) Yosick ‘14 also works at Kohler. She was on hand to discuss her work with engines and generators.

“We were also pleasantly surprised to meet Helene Cornils, director of the Advanced Development Kitchen and Bath Group at Kohler and the parent of a current Michigan Tech biomedical engineering student,” said Hein.

Two former Michigan Tech SWE Section presidents, Katie Buchalski ’19 and Andrea (Walvatne) Falasco ’12 were also present at the event. Buchlaski is an environmental engineering alumna now working at Ruekert-Mielke, where she designs municipal road and utility projects with a focus on modeling the stormwater runoff from individual sites to city-wide studies. Falasco, a mechanical engineering alumna, is lead mechanical engineer at Kimberly Clark, where she designs new equipment to make products that include Kleenex, Huggies, and Kotex. 

Numerous Michigan Tech students won SWE awards at the event, as well. One of those was biomedical engineering major Kathleen Heusser, who won a first place scholarship from the GE Women’s Network.

“Receiving the first-place 2022 GE Women’s Network Scholarship was an incredible honor,” said Heusser. “In addition to the tuition assistance it provides, the scholarship affirms my confidence in the value of my resume, my education, and my professional references, as well as my scholarship essay on what being an engineer means to me,” she explains. “The last paragraph in my essay shares how my work as an engineer will be motivated by my love of others in order to work hard–creating solutions to the problem of an individual, a company, or a society.

Michigan Tech biomedical engineering student, Kathleen Heusser, receives the GE Women’s Network Scholarship

Another highlight of the day: Michigan Tech’s SWE section received the SWE-Wisconsin President’s Choice Award.

After the conference, each Michigan Tech student in attendance reflected on their participation and what they learned:

Aerith Cruz, Management Information Systems: “It was a great opportunity for Michigan Tech SWE members to bond and connect with one another. Being able to travel as a section and experience professional development together is a fulfilling experience. We are able to share learning opportunities and build long-lasting connections with one another. It is also incredibly fun getting to know each other while exploring the area.”

Kathryn Krieger, Environmental Engineering: “It was inspiring to hear the paths of various women, and the impacts they have made. I really enjoyed hearing about modern, female-centered design that benefits women in impactful ways–rather than the stereotypical ‘pink and shrink’ method.”

Natalie Hodge, Electrical and Computer Engineering (dual major): “Laura Kohler shared this quote in her presentation, attributed to Cassie Ho: ‘Don’t compare yourself to others. It’s like comparing the sun and the moon. The sun and the moon shine at their own time.’” 

Katherine Baker, Chemical Engineering: “I especially enjoyed attending the session, ‘Navigating Early Stage Careers: The First 10 Years’. It had a great panel that gave a ton of advice on how to advance as an engineer in the workplace.”

Maci Dostaler, Biomedical Engineering: “Women are necessary when it comes to inclusive design, which was covered during one of the sessions, ‘Breaking the Glass Ceiling’”.

Alli Hummel, Civil Engineering: “Laura Kohler talked about the importance of making time for your personal life and how that is necessary to succeed at work. She is a great example of a woman who succeeds in prioritizing both work and family life.”

Lucy Straubel, Biomedical Engineering: “I really enjoyed the whole experience. It was great to hear all the advice everyone else could give me. And making friends and memories was a bonus, too.”

Amanda West, Mechanical Engineering: “One of the things I liked most about the conference was keynote speaker Laura Kohler’s speech, where she mentioned the importance of having and maintaining relationships with your mentors, an important part in developing your career and professional skills.”

Kathleen Heusser, Biomedical Engineering: “In one session called Navigating Early Stage Careers: The First 10 Years, Tess Cain of DSM, among others, gave insightful tips about saying ‘no’ to a project or demand from management that’s just not feasible. She pointed out that how others accept your ‘no’ depends a lot on how you say it. You should use a response that includes ‘I can’t/Here’s why/Here’s what I would need to make this work’ in order to go in a doable direction with the project. And another inspiring quote, overheard during the Nonlinear Careers and the Versatility of Engineering Degrees panel, was that ‘100 percent of candidates are not 100 percent qualified.’ Raquel Reif of Kohler, in particular, stressed that already having expertise in a job field is not a necessary prerequisite to apply for the job you want.”

Tom Werner: Butterflies, Moths, and Fruit Flies in the Keweenaw

Butterly or moth? Find out during Husky Bites!

Thomas Werner shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive Zoom webinar this Monday, April 4 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 30 minutes (or so), with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Dr. Thomas Werner

What are you doing for supper this Monday night 4/4 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and Biological Sciences Associate Professor Thomas Werner. Joining in will be one of his former students, alumna Tessa Steenwinkel.

Tessa Steenwinkel

Steenwinkel earned her BS in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and her MS in Biology/Biological Sciences, all at Michigan Tech. She works now as an Educational Assistant at Madison Country Day School near Madison, Wisconsin, and she will start a PhD program at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, this fall.

During Husky Bites, they will share the most beautiful butterflies, moths, and fruit fly species of the Keweenaw Peninsula. And we’ll learn much more about their Encyclopedia of North American Drosophilids. Be sure to bring your questions!

Dr. Werner started studying insects as a childhood hobby, at age 10, when a beautiful butterfly flew in the window of his family’s 9th floor apartment in Erfurt, in East Germany. Many years later, his interest in insects is still strong, as he leads a fruit fly research lab at Michigan Tech. 

Werner’s research bridges the miniscule and the massive in an effort to better understand the mechanisms behind several unique features of fruit flies, such as the developmental genetics of color pattern formation as well as those of mushroom toxin resistance, among several other questions. Some of their research questions aim to provide insight into human cancer development.

For being so small, fruit flies have had a large impact on genetic research, thanks in great part to Dr. Tom Werner at Michigan Tech.

Werner also teaches courses on general immunology, introduction to genomics, developmental biology, and he used to teach genetics and with a genetic techniques lab. He’s been bestowed with the state-wide Michigan Distinguished Professor of the Year Award 2021 and won Michigan Technological University’s Distinguished Teaching Award twice (both in the non-tenured and the tenured categories).

Callout quote:

“Werner is the epitome of the scholar-teacher. His enthusiasm in the classroom is remarkable, as is his devotion to mentoring more than 100 undergraduate researchers,” says David Hemmer, dean, College of Sciences and Arts.

“Thinking about the long winters here, I would call teaching a powerful antidepressant.”

Dr. Thomas Werner

Steenwinkel started at Michigan Tech in the fall of 2017 by joining the Pavlis Honors College. She majored in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology-Biological Sciences with a minor in Pharmaceutical Chemistry. Originally from the Netherlands, Steenwinkel has lived in the United States since she was 12 years old.

“On Michigan Tech’s annual Preview Day in March 2017, Tessa visited my lab at Michigan Tech as a high school student,” Werner recalls. “I offered her a job on the spot, because I felt that she would become the best student I have ever mentored. And I was correct about that: As my undergraduate research assistant and master’s student, she has published two books and 10 papers with me, while she won 8 university-wide and national awards!”

Tessa at work in the Werner Lab

“When I walked into the lab, I knew that this could be the place for me,” adds Steenwinkel. “After getting started at Tech, I immediately reconnected with Dr. Werner and essentially started working in the lab the next day. I worked there for over four years, working alongside grad students, leading my own project, and managing the lab even when Dr. Werner went on sabbatical in Singapore. I was always so grateful to have Dr. Werner as a mentor.”  

During her first year, Steenwinkel went from assisting in Werner’s research lab to becoming a co-author on his book, Drosophilids of the Midwest and Northeast, with John Jaenike, a professor of biology at the University of Rochester. The three later published a second book together “Drosophilids of the Southeast”, published under the umbrella name “The Encyclopedia of North American Drosophilids.” Both books welcome researchers, teachers, and young students alike into the amazing world of flies and the diversity of their potential use in research.  

The Encyclopedia of North American Drosopholids, Vol 1: covers the Midwest and Northeast.
The trio’s second book covers the Drosophilids of the Southeast.

The books also include a significant outreach component that speaks to young children about science and nature in the form of a bedtime story about fruit flies written by Steenwinkel. Open-access books, they can be downloaded for free here and here.

While at Michigan Tech, Steenswinkel became the first recipient of the Soyring Foundation Scholarship. John Soyring, Tech alumnus and Pavlis Honors College External Advisory Board member, established the scholarship for Pavlis Honors students expressing interest in research and innovation related to water quality management, renewable energy, or solutions to prevent and cure cancer. 

Prof. Werner, what sparked your interest in biology, fruit flies and genetics?

I am a biologist by heart. It all started in former East Germany when a butterfly entered my bedroom on the ninth floor in the middle of the city. On that July morning in 1981, I started collecting butterflies as a 10-year-old boy. This moment defined my life, and today I am associate professor of genetics and developmental biology.

Family?

I have a wife Megan, a daughter Natalia (10), and two sons: Oliver (7) and Oscar (5).

Any hobbies? Pets? What do you like to do in your spare time?

As a hobby, I collect and rear butterflies and moths. I like camping (and collecting fruit flies on these trips for my next field guides). I also have a dog named Frosty, who also likes camping.

Tessa, what sparked your interest in science?

My brother with Down Syndrome first got me interested in biology. From there, I started to learn about genetics, development, and diversity. This is what brought me to Michigan Tech and to start working in Dr. Werner’s lab, where he was using fruit flies to model human cancer. When I started working there, he had just published his first book on fruit flies, and I was immediately fascinated by the beauty and diversity of these small bugs. 

Hometown, family?

I’m originally from the Netherlands. I grew up there with my parents and two younger brothers. In 2012, we moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, before moving to Madison, Wisconsin, in 2014. In 2017, I decided to start college at Michigan Tech, where I obtained my undergraduate and master’s degrees.

Any hobbies or pets? What do you like to do in your spare time?

When I’m not in the lab, I enjoy running outside and teaching ski lessons to the local kids. When you live in Houghton, you have to make the best out of it. I’m currently getting ready to start my PhD. I currently have two very enthusiastic turtles.